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As the son of immigrants growing up during the Great Depression, Robert Kalanja couldn’t take advantage of a scholarship offer to study chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
Instead, he did what other young men in Trafford did in those times — he went to work at the Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant in town. He never lost his desire to learn and, at age 43, with a family to support, he enrolled at Pitt, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1972, said his daughter, Diane Persin.
“He never gave up on his dream of attending college. He was a lifelong learner. He raised his children with a strong love for education,” Persin said.
Robert J. Kalanja, 95, of Trafford died Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Allegheny Health Network Forbes Hospital, Monroeville.
He was born March 12, 1923, in Pittsburgh, the son of the late Sophia Yandrich Suzich and Petar Kalanja. The family moved to Trafford when he was a boy, and he graduated from Trafford High School in 1941.
After he graduated, his family purchased a house next to the Morocco family in town, and he met Mary Lou Moroco. They married in 1948.
He became a salesman for La Rosa Macaroni, then opened Bob’s Market on Cavitt Avenue in Trafford. To stock the market, her father would go to Pittsburgh’s Strip District to buy salami, provolone, cookies and other delicacies, Persin said.
“You could buy anything in that little store,” she said.
His wife ran the store while Mr. Persin was studying at Pitt, where he earned his master’s degree in education in 1973.
Persin recalled when she and her brother, Robert, were in the same class as their father. Decades removed from high school, her father earned an “A” in the class, a higher grade than his children, she said.
Mr. Kalanja became an English teacher at Franklin Regional Intermediate High School in 1973. He later became chairman of the English department until his retirement in 1985.
It was a great fit because he “had a strong love for (William) Shakespeare and literature,” Persin said.
Because of him, his wife, son, daughter and three of his five grandchildren were inspired to become teachers, Persin said.
“My dad cherished the simple things in life because that is where true happiness lies,” said his son, Robert Kalanja.
At one time, he was the youngest Scoutmaster east of the Mississippi River and was a Boy Scout representative for the philatelist badge.
“He was a devoted stamp collector for many, many years,” Persin said.
Survivors include his wife of 69 years, Mary Lou; daughter Diane Persin of Greensburg, and son, Robert, of Trafford; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Family and friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the John M. Dobrinick Funeral Home Inc., 702 Seventh St., Route 130, Trafford. Parting prayers will be at 9 a.m. Friday in the funeral home, followed by a funeral Mass at 9:30 a.m. in St. Regis Church, Trafford. Entombment will follow in New St. Joseph Cemetery, North Versailles.
Memorials may be sent to Mother Cabrini League, 434 W. Deming Place No. 1, Chicago, IL 60614; St. Regis Church, 517 Homewood Ave., Trafford, PA 15085; or Mother Teresa Sister Maria-Lucy, MC Superior, Missionaries of Charity, 335 E. 145th St., Bronx, NY 10451.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.